My Father died last night.
Not literally. Almost every night since he died of complications from Alzheimer’s nine years ago, Dad has come to me in my dreams.
For the first few years, those visitations were more like hauntings. They were expressions of my own guilt and doubt.
I had struggled, in their declining years, to keep my parents in their home. Maybe that wasn’t the right thing to do? Maybe they’d have done better, lived longer, in managed care?
When it was obvious that they could stay home no longer, I moved them to Virginia to be closer to me. Mom first. Then I went back for Dad. After a nightmarish trip from Athens to Virginia, he spent barely 24 hours in the care home I found for him before he went to the hospital for the last time.
He’d had a heart attack, they told me. And he had a severe infection. They could put him in the cardiac intensive care unit and treat the infection and his broken heart. Or I could transfer him to Hospice for palliative care.
What did I want to do?
What did I want to do? I wanted to take him to the National Gallery of Art to visit his beloved Dutch masters. I wanted to take him to the Capital City Brew Pub for beer and eggs. I wanted to cook rouladen and Klöße for him. I wanted to follow him around Home Depot while he interviewed nails and sorted patiently through 1 x 2s looking for the most perfectly straight one. I wanted we three to watch “Pride and Prejudice” for the 1,724th time and express our joy and relief when Lizzy and Darcy finally got together.
What I didn’t want to do was make this decision.
In the end, it was hospice. Was that what Dad would have wanted? I didn’t know. We never discussed it. As we waited for the ambulance to take him from the hospital to the Hospice facility, I held his hand and told him: “I love you, Dad.”
“No you don’t,” he replied. His last words.
My brain knew he didn’t mean it. That he was ill, confused, and frightened. That he didn’t know who I was.
My heart broke.
He died a couple of weeks later. Quietly. Without another word.
In eighteen more months, my broken-hearted Mother followed him.
That’s when the dreams started. They weren’t dead, they’d been waiting for me — in a train station, in a grubby apartment, in their old house. Hungry, cold, and helpless. Night after night, I’d explain to my Dad, as he was digging in the garden or picking figs, that 400 Brookwood Drive wasn’t ours anymore. That he had to leave. That another family lived there, now.
I moved to New Zealand. My brain broke. My therapist helped me gradually understand and accept that I’d done my best for them. That my parents knew just how much I loved them. That I could let go of the guilt.
And the dreams changed. Dad and Mom were still alive. Sometimes in our old house. But now they were healthy. They were happy. Somehow, Dad had survived that last illness and they were just fine. I could still visit them. Even though I lived on the other side of the world, I had a foot in two homes.
Last night, on Veteran’s Day, Dad died.
For the first time in nine years, I dreamt that my parents were dead. That I put their ashes in the columbarium at Arlington Cemetery. That I was getting on a plane and leaving my old home, once and for all.
When my parents died, I lost my childhood home. Not the house, but the home. The warm nest of family where I always felt safe, and loved. Over the course of my adult life, I had returned home often: after my first marriage failed, after my dissertation research grant ran dry, after my suicide attempt, after 9/11, after many failed romances. I was always welcome. Always loved.
When Simon and I came to New Zealand, I left home again. I left my career and the country that had always been and, I assumed, always would be my home. I was lucky. I had a foot in two homes.
On Wednesday, all of that changed. I feel bereft. Not angry. Perhaps a bit bemused. Mostly sad.
I’ve lost another home. The home that was once mine isn’t, anymore. I don’t belong. Will I go back? Probably, to visit. But it won’t be home. It’s another country. With values I don’t understand. With public rhetoric that would break my parents’ hearts.
Not hope but anger.
Not tolerance but hate.
Not We the People, but Us versus Them.
My Father died last night.